It probably doesn’t behoove a game reviewer to say this, but I don’t understand the concept of a horror video game.
Let me explain – we all know that video games are artificial, unchanging boxes with restricted freedom, but the very best make you forget that you are playing within a very specific set of rules and give you the impression that the game, neigh the world, is bending to your every whim.
A necessity for this to succeed is to provide a highly stimulating environment for the player and then to hand over the controls, but strangely, horror games aim to do the opposite and end up putting themselves between and rock and a hard place. It goes without saying that horror games require a large dosage of fear to be effective, but this emotion is felt most strongly when experienced passively – which kind of nullifies the point of a game – so in including functionality, and with each manually controlled step, the potential of each scare reduces. In a sense then, making a pure horror video game is like waging an unwinnable war between active and passive entertainment, with movement in either direction often affecting the other negatively – that is of course unless a hybrid horror game is made that include elements from other genres – i.e. Resident Evil.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, the 5th entry of the Final Frame series, cares little for this though, nor the threat of following the long list of dormant horror franchises that were unable to provide something new, as it comes bulldozing into your eyeballs a very bland blast from the past.
With a slow and deliberate formula of maze-like maps that hide keys to dark and ominous buildings and a story that’s read from notes scattered on the floor, you’d wonder if this was a remaster of a PS1 game rather than a Wii U title, and it’s because of this refusal to include any ‘improvements’ made in the last couple of decades, that it is likely to polarize its potential audience with many to likely consider it outdated while others might be glad to see a return of the good old days.
This is in relation to only one of its two parts though as the game can basically be divided into two sections – 1) The monotonous retro exploring with the litter collect-athon in the woods and 2) The camera ‘action’ and the black and white cutscenes. These might be the two sides of the same coin, but how very different they come across.
The camera, which the gameplay is centered, is a great gun-like system that uses the camera’s viewfinder to line up targets on the ghost’s person before snapping away to exorcise them. Dispatching the ethereal forms with House of the Dead-like sound effects from the loud camera shutter and shrieks from the ghosts carry the load that the exploration sections are incapable of holding, but as these sections constitute a small percentage of each chapter, the thrill is fleeting in the large scheme of things.
Unsurprisingly the black and white cutscenes are where the bulk of the scares come from, providing terrifying imagery and audio but the story itself is quite forgettable.
Furthermore, apart from a last-ditch attempt with 8 different endings, there is very little replay value or much to be gained in playing the chapters over again, as the game’s only gameplay – the camera function – is quite shallow, acting only as a weapon instead of solving story threads or mysteries of the ghosts you are shooting. It brings me back to my original thought that horror games need different genre gimmicks, such as survival and action elements to entertain as a ‘game’.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is a decent, but antiquated title that was screaming for an update, but all it got was an artbook and some minor visual adjustments. While it’s hardly going to do the series any favors in creating a new audience it will be fun for those who enjoy a good retro horror title.